Friend of slain woman testifies about stolen safe


RUTLAND -- A woman who let Melissa Barratt stay at her residence for about three weeks before she was murdered testified on Monday, giving the jury insight into Barratt's last days.

Barratt's friend testified that she had seen Barratt with Caraballo and Joshua Makhanda-Lopez, both of whom are alleged to be involved in the murder, just before the incident. She also had overheard conversations before the night Barratt was murdered, in which Caraballo started to suspect Barratt of stealing drugs from him.

Eventually, he accused her of stealing a safe containing drugs.

"He told her if she was stealing, he'd shoot her in the face," said the friend.

Frank Caraballo, 31, of Holyoke, Mass., stands accused of shooting Barratt on July 29, 2011, in the woods off of East West Road in Dummerston. According to court documents, Caraballo suspected Barratt, who was allegedly distributing cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin for him, of stealing a safe from him containing thousands of dollars worth of drugs.

Caraballo is currently serving a 16-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute drugs.

The two women met in jail in 2005, Barratt's friend testified Monday. In May 2011, Barratt's friend began to relapse back into cocaine use, eventually using heroin again as well. Video evidence showed the friend selling drugs for Barratt in a parking lot near the Putney Road Hannaford in Brattleboro, which is across the street from the Colonial Motel, where the friend worked and kept an apartment.

The Reformer editorial board made a decision to only name people involved in the case against Caraballo who have been charged in federal court and have accepted plea agreements in exchange for testifying. Even though it is a matter of public record, the Reformer, due to safety concerns, will not publish the names of confidential informants or witnesses who have not been charged with a federal crime.

During Barratt's last days, her friend said she began to see a difference in Barratt's attitude.

"It was very different than it had been. She seemed very nervous," she testified.

According to her testimony, the day before police found Barratt's body, Caraballo and Lopez visited the friend at work. Caraballo demanded that she open the door to her apartment so he could speak with Barratt, who was hiding out in the friend's apartment.

Before going to work, she said that she saw Barratt running into her apartment with a bag and the safe that had been missing.

"I told him that Melissa (Barratt) got on the bus. I lied because he was pissed," the friend said. "He was screaming. He was so mad."

Caraballo told the friend that he owed $10,000 on the batch of drugs that was stolen from the safe. He told the women that he didn't want to hurt anyone but he would if he had to, according to the witness.

"I was a wreck," said the friend. "I was scared of Frank (Caraballo) and what would happen."

Eventually, the friend said, the two men were let in to her apartment by Barratt and all four of them began discussing the missing safe, which Barratt maintained she had nothing to do with.

The friend told the court that Caraballo instructed Lopez to go get a gun from the car. She said it was a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and he waved it around, pointing it at them.

"(I felt) completely threatened," she said. "(Barratt) seemed scared but not as afraid as everyone else."

Lopez looked afraid, too, the friend said. He had not told Caraballo the gun was loaded. He later found out, when he unloaded the gun at the kitchen table.

The last time Barratt's friend claims to have seen her was after Caraballo and Lopez left her apartment with Barratt in a car. The friend was supposed to collect more money because she owed Caraballo for drugs fronted to her. On her way to meet up with a friend who owed her money, she saw the three drive past her in a car.

After she returned from that trip on foot, the friend said she discovered a bag of drugs underneath her couch. It contained heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine in a large quantity. According to the friend, Barratt cut a hole out in the bottom of the couch, wrapped the bag of drugs in a grocery bag and container then taped it inside there.

"I saw Melissa (Barratt) with the safe," she said. "I knew the drugs had to be (in my apartment) somewhere."

The friend said she never mentioned this to Caraballo because of the fear she had of him. When she told Caraballo that Barratt had some belongings left at her apartment, he told her that Barratt wouldn't be needing those items anymore. He later came to the apartment and took a flat screen television and laptop that Barratt left behind.

This friend of Barratt was supposed to appear at the trial last week but went missing before the hearing. After an arrest warrant was issued, U.S. Marshals later found her hiding in Northampton, Mass. She told the court that she fled because she was nervous and scared about appearing in court to testify against Caraballo. Before appearing in court, she said she relapsed after 20 months of sobriety.

"I was high," she said. "I feel a lot better now."

The defense was critical of the woman's testimony given the amount of drugs she had used in the past and the assistance she received from the prosecutors in retrieving certain memories of her dealings with Caraballo.

Other evidence was reviewed at the hearing, which showed phone activity between Barratt, Lopez and Caraballo. Photographs of guns, taken with mobile phones, were also shown at the hearing. Those photos were taken within minutes of pictures taken of Caraballo with the same phone.

The trial will resume today at 9 a.m.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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